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Israel Education

Neshama 30

Trip Blog

List of 43 items.

  • Monday, May 16

    Jon: 
     
    “We drove to mevo’ot Jericho where we visited a yishuv with Hashomer Hachadash to volunteer at their mango farm. First, we heard from Avrahami, the owner and caretaker of the farm, about his inspiration and the difficulties and intricacies of growing mangos in the desert climate. Next, we all helped him out by picking weeds growing around his trees. Although we aren’t professionals, all that we did helped him tremendously and he was very appreciative” 
     
    Reading Jon’s description knowing the feedback Rob received left us feeling proud of Neshama and excited to see how they grow and impact the world. I asked Jon’s permission to also share his reflection on Neshama: 
     
    “My Neshama Experience 
    I can’t believe it has been 3 months since we left NJ. It feels like just yesterday we were finishing our high school classes and taking finals. At the same time these few months have also been meaningful and packed.  From gaining a detailed understanding of the complex Issues Israel deals with, to developing a stronger connection with my heritage. I’ve also developed a stronger connection with my Jewish community and been able to have time and learn more about my independent self. 
     
    10 takeaways from Neshama 
    1. Rob loves to sing lullabies and go to cemeteries (“because of the history”)
    2. You can learn new things anywhere you go if you are willing to put in the time and effort, even the most normal looking brick on the ground has tons of history. 
    3. Israelis have lots of pride in their country, and love to show it. Regardless of their political opinion, everyone can celebrate Israel’s independence together. It was crazy to see everyone going all out, especially the little religious boys who loved spraying shaving cream. 
    4. What they tell you about the Negev desert is a complete lie, it is not hot and dry, it is moist and cold   
    5.  Every museum in Israel must have a screen that rolls up to reveal another room  
    6. My ancestors and parents did and do a lot to get me where I am today. Walking in their footsteps through Poland understanding their journey made me grateful for even being alive today. 
    7. The best way to learn about a place is by immersing yourself in the culture and pushing out of comfort zone. Apparently, there are other things to eat besides dinosaur chicken nuggets and pasta. You don’t have to like it but try it.
    8. Israel has a lot of hikes - wherever you are, there’s a hike nearby. 
    9. Always be open to anything, aka Lizroam (aka Rob’s favorite word) . I’ve never been very good at going with the flow, I like schedules and knowing what to expect. But sometimes, it’s better to just go and not worry about anything. Sometimes the unexpected experiences are best 
    10. What I’ve learned about Neshama in the last few months is that it isn’t just a second semester of high school. It’s an opportunity to mature and discover your own identity. It’s the ability to leave whoever you used to be in NJ and be who you want, do what you want, and want what you want without influence. As scary as it sounds, Neshama is the beginning. The beginning of your life and you as an independent adult. These past few months have been an amazing start to our lives, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
     
  • Wednesday, May 11

    Chloe shares Neshama’s experience in Haifa:
     
    “Today we visited Haifa, Yaron’s hometown (Yaron is our Madrich). We met with Naomi who recently made aliyah from Pennsylvania to Haifa. She showed us around the beautiful city, pointing out its diversity with Arabs, Muslims, Christians, Jews from all around the world. Naomi spoke with us about her life in an urban kibbutz. It is a new concept in Israel, where young people move in together, spend time, share food and budgets and volunteer in the community. Shortly after, we rode the Carmelit (Haifa’s subway) which is the only subway in Israel, running since the 60s. We then visited a Druze village, learning about their community and their beliefs, while eating delicious traditional food. We learned that a person cannot convert to the Druze community without their parents both being already part of the community. If a person in the community is not religious, they are not allowed to know anything about the Druze religion. One of the biggest values in the Druze community, is serving their homeland, so they are very proud to serve in the IDF. Every male is required to serve, and the girls are required to do national service. Lastly, we went to the Bahai Gardens. There are a total of 19 terraces and over 1,500 steps. The symmetry of the gorgeous garden symbolizes beauty, equality, and harmony. We learned that the Bahai faith believes in one God and God sends divine teachers to guide all people. They believe in the unity of faith and the unity of mankind. From Haifa we drove back to Tel Aviv for dinner at the Sarona Market. “
  • Tuesday, May 10

    Yoni:

    “Today was a very interesting and educational day on Neshama. We started our day with an early wake up, and a delicious breakfast at our hotel. After eating, we traveled to meet Anat, our tour guide who would show us around south Tel Aviv. Anat began our tour by explaining to us that we have not truly seen the “real” areas of Tel Aviv. To her, the real areas are located in the south Tel Aviv area, beginning in the neighborhood of Nave Shaanan. Nave Shaanan is composed of refugees from Africa, and is described as being an area filled with crime, drugs and prostitution. This is a very interesting area of Tel Aviv because the majority of residents are not actually citizens and are seeking refuge from African countries. After walking through the streets, we traveled to the Levinsky Garden where we sat and discussed the pressing refugee problem in south Tel Aviv. Many of us also noticed that every plane taking off from Israel traveled over this area. This noise and chaos added to the scenery around us, showing us the unique lifestyle of south Tel Aviv. After discussing many issues within Israel, we walked over to the Central Bus Station, the second biggest bus station in the world. Many of us noted that it seemed similar to Port Authority, besides that this station is 7 floors high. Within the station there were many markets and shops selling a variety of goods from around the world.  This was a special and unique experience that widened our original view of Tel Aviv. After the bus station, we walked to the Shapira neighborhood, which is very similar to an urban kibbutz. This was a more modern area and was developing many projects to help the incoming refugees. To finish up our tour, we walked to the crafts and graffiti section of south Tel Aviv to reflect on our visit and discuss how Israel, the Jewish state, should handle this refugee issue. The next activity that we went to was a meeting with Kuchinate, a center supporting African refugees who are looking for work. This center focuses on single mothers who made the long journey from various African countries. These mothers are able to come to this center and make many different traditional crafts to sell for a salary. This salary helps them find a place to live and support their children in Tel Aviv. They greeted us with popcorn, coffee, and a traditional African bread to help explain their culture. We discussed how Israel treats these refugees and ways in which they could help more. After this insightful conversation, we traveled to Shuk Hacarmel for lunch and shopping. At the shuk, my friends and I enjoyed a delicious lunch and spent our time shopping and walking around the area. Our afternoon then consisted of a visit to Rabin square where we learned about the death of Yitzhak Rabin and his impact to Israeli society. We then returned back to our hotel and celebrated Oren’s birthday together. All in all, this was a very meaningful day and many of us took a lot of important lessons out of it.” 
  • Monday, May 9

    Kaylee

    Monday:
    We started off this Monday on Neshama with an early morning wake up in the Bedouin Tents. We then went to breakfast in the settlement and left soon after to get an early start to our full day. First, we met with a Bedouin tour guide from Beer Sheva, who showed us around an unrecognized settlement just outside of Rahat. There, we learned from their leader and hear about the Bedouin lifestyle, ideals, principals, and ways of life. We were welcomed there with open arms, hot tea and coffee, and toured there for about an hour. Walking around and learning about a whole other way of living surrounded by goats, chickens, and homes made by tarps and blankets was really eye opening and even if it’s not a lifestyle suitable for everyone I admired how joyful they were to be living like their ancestors. Afterwards, we drove to Rahat and went to a mosque to learn about how the Bedouins pray and how religion affects their culture. This also provided us with a different perspective as we learned from a more modern Bedouin who lives in a “normal” home and is an Israeli citizen. After our visit at the mosque, we went to a Bedouin woman’s house for lunch, home cooked by her and her daughters. There, we learned about her life challenges, her modern-Bedouin lifestyle and her inspiring life story. She grew up in a home with 28 siblings as her father had two wives, one with 13 children and another with 15. She herself was married at 16.5 and by 28 she was pregnant with her eighth child. He was born and within a few months became very sick. After traveling around all of Israel and eventually to New York he was eventually diagnosed with a rare disease putting him in a wheelchair for life and mentally deteriorating every year. Through all this she was resilient and began her own cosmetic business and tourism business to earn more money for her family. Following our delicious meal and her inspiring story, we went to an independent farm in the south Negev, where we were greeted by an orthodox woman who told us all about her ways of life and how her life had changed since moving from Sderot to even further in the Negev. She taught us about the different things she grows including three different types of grapes, plums, apples, peaches, and saffron. All of these products she and her family use for themselves including the saffron that she started growing after learning about its possible native roots to Israel during the time of the second temple. We finally got back on the bus and headed to Tel Aviv for the night taking all the stories and motivational attitudes with us.” 
  • Sunday, May 8

    Natty

    Sunday: 
    “Neshama’s journey following the third and final free weekend began with a tour of an underground ammunition factory located on Kibbutzim Hill in Rechovot. The factory, which was established in 1945, was crucial for the success of the Israeli Independence War. Due to British authority at the time, the factory was uniquely designed and built 8 meters beneath the ground. Atop the factory sat a mock laundry room with loud machinery to distract unexpected visitors from the work below. Throughout the museum stood machinery used to manufacture the bullets along with a miniature gun range to test the bullets. The factory was built in less than a month in secrecy and served as a provider for ammunition until the end of the war in 1948 where the machines were later moved to a more centralized bullet-producing location. 
    Neshama then traveled to Gedera, a small town near Rehovot, one of the first towns built in Israel back in 1880’s, where we had lunch. The area, suggested by Rabbi Kallush, offered a large variety of foods - borekas, shawarma, pizza, sushi, among other foods - to fit the desire of every Neshamanik. 
    The next part of the day included taking a bus ride to Kfar HaNokdim, behind the southern city of Arad. There, we learned some of the lifestyle of the Bedouin community. The Bedouins are nomadic Arabic tribes that dwell and migrate throughout the desert. As we entered a large tent that housed our bedding, we had the opportunity to experience Bedouin life where we rode camels and ate a Bedouin dinner on the ground. The final portion of the day consisted of a bonfire and some free time to unwind and process the day before ending with a night of sleep in a Bedouin tent. 
  • Monday, May 2

    Emily wrote about today’s learning and preparation for the days to follow: 
     
    “Today was an intense day for Neshama. As Yom YaZikaron gets closer and closer Rob and the Madrichim have made the schedule jam packed with places and activities that will help us all connect to the day. Our day began with a visit to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum in Israel. After visiting Poland, this visit was especially meaningful for the group. We had all been before, but after being in Poland we were able to feel more connected to each thing we saw and have a clear picture in our heads of the places we were told about. Along with walking through the museum, we also go to visit the Children’s Memorial and the Room of Questions. The Room of Questions was a place none of us had been before, which allowed us to explore many of the hard questions surrounding the Holocaust. For example, I listened to a survivor speak about where he believed God was in the midst of the Shoah. For me, this visit helped to make our Neshama education more full circle, connecting our Poland trip to the end of our journey. It was a great way to remind us all of what we saw and that there is always more to learn. Following this visit, we were given a lunch break to decompress before our next stop. After  lunch, we made our way to Har Herzl. We walked to graves of important members of the Israeli government and soldiers and heard numerous stories about their lives. Pacey told us about Yizchak Rabin, Bella spoke about Hanna Senesh, Jon talked about Uriel Peretz, Eli told us about Roi Klein, and Hannah Lancman and Kaylee spoke about Michael Levin. Each story gave us a new perspective to Yom HaZikaron and another person to think about on the day. Overall, today was a hard day, but a very crucial day to help us understand Israeli society and how the history of the Jews connects to the future of the state of Israel.”
  • Yam L'Yam

    Shir’s update: 
     
    “Yam le yam has definitely been an opportunity I don’t think any of us will forget. the 5-day, 4-night, hike has been full of new challenges, but I know that each of my classmates has really pushed themselves to really get the most out of this experience. 

    Day 1:
     On Monday, after a 2-hour drive from Agron, we arrived at our starting point and ate a quick lunch before heading out. we also had a birthday celebration for Hannah Stoch with some delicious chocolate brownie cake. Our goal for the day was to reach Nachal Amud, a small stream of water that led to the kinneret and gather some of that water in order to pour it into Mediterranean Sea at the end of our hike on Friday. to pass the time during the hike, we had some great conversations, listened to music and took in the peaceful and lush atmosphere of the forest. We ended our hike by returning to our starting point, and then took the bus to our campsite for the night. Luckily, we were able to celebrate our first day of yam le yam by buying ice cream and other snacks at our camp site! We also got lucky with this campsite because it turned out to be the only site with real bathrooms!!!!!!!! The rest of the afternoon, we all hung out and relaxed together until dinner. We all knew dinner would be amazing because of our desert experience hikes that were taken care of by the same organization, Tzukim, and we all had some delicious schnitzel with vegetables. Once it got dark and we had a fire going, we all huddled together for warmth and just kept the good conversation flowing until bedtime. 
     
     
    Day 2: 
    Day 2 of Yam le Yam started bright and early with a 6:45 am wake up. we needed to pack everything up and take a short drive to our starting point, but first we enjoyed a pre-breakfast snack of bread, chocolate spread, tea and biscuits. According to Rob, this hike was supposed to be the hardest one of the week, because a majority of it was uphill. However, we were all so lucky because one accidental turn led us away from the difficult incline to a much easier route on the hiking path called Shvil Israel. Although it was still a difficult hike, we took a lot of breaks and drank a lot of water. Even though it was a hard day, Hannah L and Oren organized a game of assassin which is a game we were able to play throughout the entire day. The game is played like this: everyone is assigned a person in the grade and a word they need to get their person to say. For example, I was assigned Rob and I needed to get him to say the word “majestic.” The basic rules are that you would need to somehow prompt your person to say the word, and if you were successful, they would tell you the person they had and that would be your new target. The game was intense, and everyone was on their toes being careful of what they said but it really did help keep our spirits high. It was also exciting to hear whenever someone new got assassinated…. We ended our hike in Hirbat Homema, which was a surprisingly popular camp site because there were at least 4 or 5 other groups staying the night. The assassin game was still going but because there was so much chatter about who was in and out, Hannah L and Oren decided to remix the people who were still in the game and give them new words and new people, meaning the game would spill into the next day. The afternoon went very similarly to the first night where we each relaxed, spent time together, had dinner, and eventually changed and did body wipe downs with baby wipes. The wipes were literally heaven sent after a full day of hiking and sweating without access to a proper shower, and it became a part of everyone’s nightly ritual throughout the trip. Later that evening, after some time spent around the campfire, and a small incident with a burning marshmallow, we all went to bed. 
     
    Day 3: 
    Wednesday! The halfway point of Yam le Yam. This was a really nice day because after yesterday’s intense uphill climb, the rest of our hikes would be relatively easy and downhill. We started hiking immediately from the area we slept and walked for about 30 minutes to find a breakfast spot. The area was really beautiful in my opinion because we were set up underneath a big, shady tree facing straight towards another hillside which was overflowing with lush, green trees! There were even some cows around us which added to the naturey atmosphere. After breakfast we continued walking, every now and then passing another group of hikers. Although the overall agenda for the day was the same as the past two days, our grade is very good at having all kinds of conversations and entertaining one another, so it was pretty rare to find anyone bored throughout the day. We even still had our ongoing game of assassin to keep me and my classmates excited. By the end of the hike our two winners were Emily and Ozzie, and because we all enjoyed it so much, they were chosen to set up a new round that we would play the next day. When we arrived at our campsite, it was nice to see that this area was much quieter and more secluded than our previous one. The silence and peace were important because due to it being the night before Yom HaZikaron laShoah ve-laG'vurah, Rob and our Madrichim led a short program about the Holocaust and about the importance of the day. Each of our Mishpachot met with a single madrich who told us a story related to the Holocaust, and then held a short discussion about how we were feeling and any other thoughts about the story, song, or picture we were shown. I thought the activity was very meaningful because it helped bring me back to how I felt when we were in Poland walking through concentration camps, learning about people’s stories, and digging deeper into the true history of the Holocaust. That night we each went to bed prepared for the next day, expecting to hear the sirens for Yom HaZikaron at 10am tomorrow. 
     
    Day 4:
    It’s Thursday morning, only 2 more days left of Yam le Yam. I wouldn’t say I’m sad it’s almost over, buuuuttt a bed and a nice shower does sound really nice after 4 days of baby wipe showers and sleeping on the ground. We started our hike that morning by walking through the woods on a shady path, looking for a place to set up breakfast. My group made some porridge with sugar and apples and chocolate sandwiches for breakfast which isn’t the healthiest breakfast, but we work pretty well with what we have. Also, later in the day Rob mentioned we would be having a cooking competition between the hiking groups, so we wanted to save our really good food for the competition. We kept on hiking after breakfast, dodging barbed wire and hopping over streams of water, until it was time for lunch. We had a good amount of time to make food for ourselves before the competition, but once it started, each of us got our heads in the game. We had a little over an hour to make an appetizer, main course, and dessert for the panel of judges which consisted of our madrichim and our medic, Ayal. There were a few highlights from each of the groups but in the end the vegetarian group won the overall competition, which I think was just to make them feel better about being vegetarians, but that may just be my carnivorous stomach talking. Anyway, the rest of the hike was either a dry hike or a hike through water, and we were each given the option of which to do. We finished at around 4 pm and reached a little tourist viewpoint overlooking the mountains we had just finished climbing and it was breathtaking. With the sun setting, the trees looking so thick and green, and an old crusader castle nestle into the mountain across from us, the scene was just beautiful. We reached our camp later than normal, but that just meant dinner time was closer. After we each set up in our tents and changed, dinner was served, and we all shared our meal on the big mat laid out for us each night. Since we all knew it was our last night, we decided to play another grade-wide game called Kingdom. In this game, each person has to enter a random name anonymously. Once everyone did so, the names were read out loud and everyone would have to guess who wrote what name and in the end the game was a three-way tie between me, Alexis and Sam. I love playing those games because it really is heartwarming to see the grade bond and spend time together over Yam le Yam when a majority of us genuinely thought we would be miserable. After our game, we all huddled by the fire for the last time and enjoyed one another’s company until it was time for bed. 
     
    Day 5: 
    Day 5 of Yam le Yam! After such a long week, we finally made it to the home stretch. Everyone was excited to get to the Mediterranean either by bike or bus. I was with the group of people who biked and unfortunately for me I wiped out and fell so I couldn’t continue the ride. However, I heard from my friends on the bikes that the ride was really fun and exciting, and my friends on the bus shared that they were really happy to enjoy the relaxing drive. Either way we all came together at the Mediterranean Sea, where Oren gave a beautiful hype man, locker-style speech to the grade about our hike as he poured the water bottle from Nachal Amud (from our first day of hiking) into the Sea. Although it was too cold to actually swim and enjoy the water, Rob led us in a short reflection about Yam le Yam and also started a compliment circle for the group! We would go in a circle and one by one each person would be complimented by one of their peers and simply just be acknowledge for something funny, admirable, or inspiring that they did throughout the week. It was a very sweet end to the experience and after a short lunch we headed back to Jerusalem for shabbat. The first shower back was just amazing, it was like none of us had showered in months, and the fact we all got to get dressed up for shabbat made it all so much better! It’s great to be back at home sweet Agron.”
  • Thursday, April 14

    Michal 
    "This morning Neshama 30 woke up excited for our final day together before Passover break. The group split into two choosing their morning activities. Those seeking adventures went on the thrilling hike Shvil Tzafit Ein Gedi with Rob.

    The other group made two kinds of charoset  (one Sephardi and one Ashkenazi) to get in the pesach spirit. Then they enjoyed a short hike with several waterfalls in Ein Gedi.

    In the afternoon Neshama reunited to enjoy lunch together. Before returning to Jerusalem, we stopped at Qumran to learn about the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

    We are all looking forward to have time to relax and enjoy the holiday in Israel. Chag Sameach!"
  • Wednesday, April 13

    David 
    "Today was a really fun day, even though there was an early wakeup. We began the day at 4:45 with a pseudo-breakfast + coffee. We then left our hostel and entered the snake path on Masada. The hike up the mountain was difficult as it was almost all uphill. However, the beauty made us all forget the difficulty. As we climbed up Masada, we watched the sun begin to rise and light fill the sky. When we started the hike, we could still see stars in the sky, and, when we reached the top, the sun was about to peak through the Jordanian mountains to our east across the Dead Sea. This opportunity to watch the sun rise on top of Masada was coupled with meeting old friends; the 12th grade students from The Leffell School coincidentally were also climbing Masada today. Eventually, we separated and began touring the top of the mountain. We learned about how the mountain was excavated, its significance to modern Israel, and its history. We were helped by the fact that we spent time last night learning the Masada story. Throughout the (still very early) morning, we visited the Herod's palace, the bathhouses, the water collection system, the living quarters, and more. It was particularly interesting to pay attention to how the historical accounts of Masada lined up with the history written by Flavius Josephus. Because there is only one account of the history of Masada, written by a historian who was both Jewish and Roman, his writings could be unreliable. We then made our way down the mountain and went to our Hostel for breakfast, where we met back up with the kids from Leffell. At 10:30 (though it felt much later for many of us) we left for a resort on the Dead Sea, where we stayed for ~ 5 hours. We went in the Dead Sea, swam in the pool, and hung out together in the sun. It was very relaxing and satisfying after the challenging morning."
  • Tuesday, April 12

    Inbar:
     
    “Hi everyone, today we had another fun and interesting day on Neshama. We started the day by taking a 45 minute drive to Netiv HaAsara. When we got there, we met a woman named Revital who talked a little bit about her experience living so close to the border with Gaza. For some background, Netiv HaAsara used to be located in Sinai Peninsula, but after the peace agreement with Egypt, in 1982 the settlement was moved to its current location today just north of the Gaza Strip. We then watched a video which was narrated by Tzameret, the founder of the “Peace Wall” movement, which described the challenges of living next to Gaza. However, instead of dwelling on the challenges, she was able to turn it into something positive. Everytime a group comes to learn about the “Peace Wall” initiative, they all take a little piece of ceramic and write a wish on it, and then place it on the wall which surrounds the settlement and protects it from Gaza. 

    After each person placed the ceramic stone on the wall, we then moved to our next location: Sderot. Sderot is a city located within a mile of Gaza with a population of about 30,000 people. In Sderot, we met a man named Ari, who works with tourist groups that come to Sderot. In fact, he even used to live in Gaza, back when Israel had control over it. We took a tour throughout some of the city, including a memorial that honored 4 fallen soldiers. It got intense when he showed us old missiles that were fired from Gaza. We also saw an active Iron Dome.

    We then went to Moshav Talmei Yosef, for a visit to “ Shvil HaSalat   (the salad path) a farm which is run by a man named Uri. We started the activity with a dog named Corona (named after coronavirus) that did many tricks for us, such as going through tunnels and hoops. We then tasted many different types of fruits and vegetables, such as hot peppers, cabbages, cherry tomatoes, kumquats, blood oranges, heart shaped cucumbers, and strawberries. At the end of the activity, a handful of us held pigeons in our hands and released them at the same time in hopes of peace with Gaza”.
  • Sunday, April 10

    Alexis wrote about Sunday: 
    Today, April 10th, we packed our bags and left Achuzat Ohalo where we had spent the past few days. Our first stop was Tzippori National Park which featured the old city of Tzippori which is where Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi lived. We learned that he was responsible for compiling and writing down the Mishnah. The Mishnah finished being compiled in the city of Tzippori. In many of the ruins that were left in the city, there were many mosaics that told stories of the values during this time period. It was a Roman city and Jews lived among them. We also learned that it was possible that the Passover seder was adopted from the idea of the Roman Symposium. In the Beit Knesset, the mosaics on the floor depicted important scenes from our history such as the Binding of Isaac. After spending awhile exploring Tzippori, we had a picnic pizza and salad lunch. Once we finished eating, we stopped to see the Tzippori Aqueduct. After this 15-minute stop, we went back on the bus and headed to Kibbutz Hannaton which was started by the conservative movement. At this kibbutz we met with Rabbi Yoav Ende who spoke to us about the kibbutz and the history of the land there. After receiving a tour and having a group text study, we davened mincha in the synagogue there. Once we finished, we headed to the bus for our 3 hour drive to Kibbutz Gvulot. Once we arrived, we put our bags in our rooms and headed to dinner. After dinner we had a conspiracy theories night where our classmates presented different theories to us. Eli, Oren, and Abs did a presentation on JFK and Rosemary Kennedy. After the presentation we went back to our rooms to get a good night’s sleep for our activities tomorrow.”
  • Saturday, April 9

    Eli: 
    Hi everyone, we just finished off a fun and relaxing shabbat on the Kineret. Yesterday, we first went to Tel Dan National Park and explored the park. We arrived at an ancient site where we learned about the story of Jeroboam, the first king of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. We learned about how Jeroboam was worried that the Northern Kingdom would lose people to the South, as the holiest site in Judaism (the temple) was located in the Southern Kingdom. To compensate for this, he made two golden calfs for them to worship (even though this was a massive sin) and put them in two different locations in his kingdom, so they would not need to leave the North to worship G-d. Tel Dan is a site where one of the golden calves was believed to have been located, and we sat next to it and learned about the story. We also saw an ancient mud-brick gate at Tel Dan that is believed to have been the same gate Abraham walked through with his nephew Lot. It was fascinating to visit historical Jewish places in parts of Israel that are not usually the first to come to mind when thinking of ancient Jewish history. This shows how the Jewish biblical connection to Israel stretches far across the land and does not just include Jerusalem and Hebron.

    After lunch at Gan Hatzafon, we visited the site of the 1997 Israeli helicopter disaster. This disaster occurred when two Israeli military helicopters collided in mid-air on a foggy night. They were carrying soldiers between Israel and outposts in Southern Lebanon (at this time Israel still had a security zone in Southern Lebanon). Everyone aboard (73 people in total) died, making it the deadliest aircraft accident in Israel’s history. Many of us were emotional as we walked around the memorial (which was shaped like a helicopter and had 73 large stones, the latter detail reminding us of the memorial at Treblinka). This memorial reminded us of the fragility of life (anywhere in the world, but particularly in Israel) - as many of these soldiers were not much older than we are and had their lives taken from them in an instant.
     
    After the memorial, we went back to our hotel and conducted Kabalat Shabbat on the Kineret. We made sure to do the service next to the building where our rooms are, as we wanted to include Yoni (who has been quarantining in his room). Following services, we had Shabbat dinner, played some games, and went to bed.
     
    This morning, we were able to sleep in later than usual before going to Shabbat tefillah. Instead of going to a synagogue (as we have for every Shabbat on Neshama until now), we did our tefillot in the hotel’s beit knesset. Virtually everyone participated in the service in one way or another, as we had so many different roles to give out (I was fortunate to be able to read one aliyah of Torah). After this, we had free time in the afternoon before visiting a nearby Kibbutz Kinneret gravesite. Several of my classmates learned in advance about some of the figures who were buried at the graveyard and presented their life stories to the grade. Our hotel is located on one of the early kibbutzim that was founded by Zionist pioneers in 1913. It was inspiring to hear the stories of these people who believed so strongly in Zionism (specifically Labor Zionism) that they uprooted their lives in Europe to come live and work on a kibbutz in Israel.
     
    Following this, we had dinner in Tiberias, and I am writing this on the bus back to the hotel. Looking forward to heading back to the South tomorrow!



  • Thursday, April 7

    Natty Wrote today’s update:  
     
     "In light of Israel’s history with terror, the beginning of this day on Neshama was structured to educate the group about the safety precautions and decisions necessary to keep Israel safe and secure. After an hour-long bus ride in the morning, we stopped at the Kfar Bar’Am Synagogues. These two synagogues sit in ruins, as their construction dates back to the third century CE. Following the short history of the ruins, we headed towards the southern Lebanon border where we were introduced to Abraham. 
        Abraham, an Israeli resident who moved to the Golan heights, discussed the contributing factors to Israel’s security measures. As we sat atop a small mountain overseeing the southern Lebanon border, Abraham explained the goals of closely observing surrounding Lebanese villages: to understand what the people living there are thinking. He further clarified that Israel attempts to understand the economic and political standpoints of the villages (through social media, newspapers, or other sources) is to ensure the safety of Israel from terrorist organizations on the southern border. Terrorist groups such as Hezbollah are carefully deterred with constant monitoring. Whether it be through sensors, microphones, or cameras, information to further develop Israel’s defenses can be easily obtained. 
        To fully grasp the difficulty of protecting Israel, we rode the bus again to the Alma Research and Education Center (https://israel-alma.org/) here the group was split into five ministries: The Prime Minister’s office, Foreign Affairs, Defense, Internal Security, and regional cooperation. Each group was tested with realistic scenarios to see how well we would do in protecting both the land and the people of Israel, all while maintaining Israel’s public perception. The results were…. not so great. Let’s just say that we’re grateful that Israel’s officials are making the decisions and not us. 
        Next, Neshama took a relaxing approach to the day as we sat on the green grass at one of the Kineret’s many beautiful beaches. Though the scenery was a little hazy, we had the opportunity to soak in the water, bathe in the sun, or go across the street for some food and shopping. Following the beach, and, in the same location, we had dinner, concluding another day of Neshama"
  • Tuesday, April 5

    Sam’s update from today:
     
    “We started our morning with an hour-long drive to the mountainous town of Tzfat. We started our tour from the highest point where we discussed the “think tank” history of the town and how people moved here to reach a deeper state of thought. After taking in the view of the many mountains around us, we walked down to a massive cistern just below the peak. In the cistern, we gathered in a single file circle where we all shared, in one brief sentence, what we thought the meaning of life is. Most students agreed it was based on the values of love, joy, and making the world a better place. The goal was to get us thinking about life, challenge and refine our own thoughts over the next few days. Neshama than worked our way through Tzfat and toured 3 synagogues that had been destroyed and rebuilt after the 1837 massive earthquakes that plague the area. The first one was actually a Beit Midrash turned Beit Knesset which was noticeable because the entrance was on the same wall as the arc which is usually considered disrespectful. We also reviewed the story of the creation of the Shulchan Aruch . We then walked to the Abuhav synagogue where we heard 3 stories. The first was about why the synagogue had 3 different arcs when it only had one Torah. The reason was that during the Ottoman rule, it was required that houses of worship also contain the Koran to keep everything equal. This synagogue was also the birthplace of the most popular form of Kaballah so we heard the story behind it. This approach to Kaballah based on the idea that Hashem was so huge that there was no room to create the world, so he was contained in glass bottles. These bottles could not contain God so eventually they broke, and God was spread over the world so Kaballah is about bringing these pieces back together. We also learned the funny story of how the synagogue had hired an Italian artist who wasn’t Jewish to design the arc. However, he put a human face on the arc which is not allowed so the members needed to work to turn it into an interesting looking lion. Neshama was then given a break for pizzur lunch and shopping in the town. Once the pizzur was over, we met with a local musician who had us sing Shabbat prayers with extra piano which was a really nice and exciting spin. He also performed an original, and slow song while he let us sit back and close our eyes. He then told everyone to sit with good posture, close their eyes to try and meditate to clear their mind. He played his piano for us while we sat perfectly still for about 10 minutes which I found to be incredibly re-energizing. He sang a few more songs for us and then we moved on to the final activity for the day. (Also you can listen to some of the music at this link: https://open.spotify.com/artist/0RbNWBTP9wb2FDKJGFyC0R?si=W6ebe9iXSiShQd3rarfSVA) and finally we spoke with a local artist whose work focuses on the Kaballah. He also led us in a discussion about kaballistic ideas about reincarnation, your purpose in life and more but if I got any further into it, we would be here all day. However, we were all very engaged, and the artist was very surprised with the depth of our questions on the topic. Finally, we drove to Ahuzat Ohalo for dinner and a well-earned mental break.”
  • Monday, April 4

    Eve wrote about todays adventures:
     
    “Our first activity of today, Monday, April 4, involved repelling down a 30-meter cliff. This activity, while scary for some and exhilarating for others, was an essential part of stepping out of our comfort zones - one of the most important aspects of Neshama. Through our discomfort, we are able to grow as team members and individuals. 
    After repelling, we hiked back up the mountain. I think we can all agree it was the most difficult hike yet! Small loose rocks filled the winding trail, making it increasingly difficult to maintain our balance. At some points, we inched our way across a path with the help of a metal bar built into the rocks. There were other parts we had to physically support each other with an arm or hand, but the help of emotional support and encouragement was equally as important during this hike. 

    Gallons of sweat later and with much relief, we reached the end of our treacherous trek across (part of) the land of Israel and were able to eat our packed lunches.

    Next and most noteworthy, my absolute favorite part of the day was relaxing on the Banana Beach in Achziv. Chilling out, listening to music, and taking in the warm rays of the sun made our difficult hike beyond worth it. 

    Today, we experienced a wide range of emotions through our differing activities - we felt exhilarated, exhausted, relaxed. But, the most overwhelming emotion of all was the pure joy of having fun together on Neshama!”
  • Thursday, March 31

    Jon wrote:
     
    “This morning after a later wake up and nice breakfast, the group said goodbye to kibbutz Ketura and started the journey North. After a long and peaceful bus ride, Neshama 30 arrived at The Ein Avdat hike in Sde Boker. We began at the bottom of a ravine from millions of years ago and started hiking our way up via hundreds of stairs and ladders, we made it to the top and were greeted with a nice ice cream as a reward. We then headed to Sde Boker for lunch and to do some grocery shopping. We sang happy birthday to Yael over some more sweet snacks before finishing the drive to Tel Aviv and then Jerusalem to begin the home hospitality weekend.”
  • Wednesday, March 30

    Hannah wrote:

    Yesterday, March 30, began with us eating a pancake breakfast and packing lunch at Kibbutz Ketura, where we have been staying since Sunday. We then departed to the Timna Valley, an area in the desert notable for beautiful red stone and copper mines. Our hike consisted of climbing metal ladder rungs and stone stairs, as well as crawling through abandoned copper mining shafts. I’m not the biggest hiker, but this hike was relatively simple and certainly beautiful. The temperate weather certainly helped. 

    Near the hike, we stopped by a mushroom-shaped rock created by (as Rob consistently pointed out) erosion. There, we discussed our relationship with G-d, evolution, and the Torah. It was interesting to hear everyone’s perspectives in the open expanse of the desert. 
    After a quick lunch break, we arrived at the pillars of Solomon, a rock formation that truly looks like a giant stone library. We climbed up to an incredible view where we prayed Mincha and observed some Egyptian carvings through a telescope. I loved the view and sitting with everyone in the shade. It was extremely peaceful. 
    Now that it’s getting warmer, ice cream is a necessity, so we stopped by Kibbutz Yotvata, famous for their dairy, most importantly their chocolate milk and smooth ice cream. It was a fantastic treat and a necessary relief from the heat. 

    Our last stop of the day was at Kibbutz Lotan, a reform Kibbutz notable for its ecological and sustainability projects. There, we walked through their park built out of recycled tires and garbage. We also learned about how they build their buildings out of mud so that the structures will eventually decompose and return to the earth. We even got to make mud bricks and build bridges to stand on, which was certainly a unique experience. 

    As we finish our day, we will make pizza for dinner and will close out our final night and Kibbutz Ketura with karaoke and Just Dance. Overall, I’ve enjoyed our time here, and though the dry desert air has taken some adjusting, I’m extremely grateful for the warmth we sorely lacked in the past few weeks. Hopefully New Jersey will also start to warm up soon!”
  • Tuesday, March 29

    Pacey: 
     
    Today was different from the typical busy schedule that is normal for a day at Kibbutz Ketura. However, today was the hottest day of the trip so far which made it more difficult. Our first activity of the day was at the Eilat Birdwatching Center. This research center in Eilat was created as Eilat is a major hub for migrating birds from Europe and Asia to Africa. In one year over 500 million birds can pass through the region on their way to Africa. The center works to provide food and places to nest for the birds before they continue their migration. We came to the conservatory to learn about the birds but mainly to help volunteer. Neshama was tasked with laying stones on the sides of a concrete riverbed in order to create places for birds to nest. This was pretty intensive work and required moving and placing large stones. The heat made the work that much harder, but it was still fun to work on a project together as a group. Luckily after the volunteer work was done, we had lunch and free time at a mall in Eilat. There we were able to shop, get food and, most importantly, ice cream. It felt like a well deserved break after our work at the bird conservatory. Our next activity was snorkeling at a beach in Eilat. The main attraction of the activity was the beautiful fish we got to see and the local coral reefs in the area. Unfortunately, the coral reefs where we were swimming were not as vibrant as in the past but were still home to many different colorful fish which made for a fun experience. After, we then had a few hours to relax at the beach, read a book and listen to music. It was nice to have a more relaxed day that allowed us to recharge so we could enjoy the rest of our time at Kibbutz Keturah”  
  • Friday, March 25 and Saturday, March 26

    Jon:  
     
    We had a very calming weekend. We started off Friday morning waking up at 6:00 am to heavy rainfall expecting to run a 5k in the Jerusalem Marathon. However, due to the cold and rain, we were given the option to either run or go back to bed. With this, the runners were Hadas, Jon, Yoni, Michal, Feldy, Kaylee, Pacey, Josh, Inbar, Abs, David, and Hannah L, along with our madrichim Maya, Yaron, and Ze'ev.
     
    After a twenty-minute walk to the start of the race due to the roads being closed, we all became very excited. At around 7:30, the race started, and everyone was off. People chose to run the whole thing, run part of it, or walk all of it. Congratulations to our madricha Maya for getting tenth place in the women's division with a time of 22:58! After the 5k race, we all walked back to Agron.
     
    Later in the day at 12:30 we went out for a pizur lunch located near Agron. After lunch, we sat down back at Agron and decorated the masks we made for Purim. We then had free time to prepare for Shabbat. After Kabbalat Shabbat, we stopped and discussed this past week, how it made us feel, and how we viewed Israel after meeting many different people. We then prayed Maariv, had dinner, had a birthday celebration for Feldy, and went to sleep.
     
    On Shabbat we woke up and went to one of three Shuls: The Jerusalem Great Synagogue, Kehillat Shira Hadasha, and Kehilat Kol HaNeshama. After an average Agron lunch, we had plenty of time to rest, and for those who wanted, walk to a large park with a massive playground. At 6 pm, we all rolled out of bed, had some ice cream, and broke up into groups to discuss Zionism. After Havdalah, we had a pizur dinner near Agron and went to sleep. After a packed week, we were all happy to have a restful weekend, and are excited to head down south and enjoy warmer weather.
  • Wednesday, March 23

    Bella: 
    This morning (Wednesday) we began our day meeting Yasmine, a Muslim convert, at the mosque in En Rafa. There we learned about the technicalities of the Muslim religion such as the religious holiday Ramadan, the five pillars of Islam, and one of the major ideals of Islam: submission to God. Following this lesson, Yasmine gave us a tour of En Rafa and explained the lifestyle of the people who are living there. Unlike what we’re used to back in New Jersey, it is very common in that neighborhood for relatives to live and own plots of land right next to each other. At the end of the tour we made our way to Yasmin’s house where we asked her multiple questions about her personal life, the Muslim religion and the conflict currently going on between our religions. 

    For lunch, we went to Abu Gush and had very delicious falafel, pita and hummus. Then we went back to Agron and had downtime. I chose to use that downtime to go to Mamilla mall and shop around with friends. Later at night we met with a Jewish man and a Muslim high school student who are both part of the organization Kids 4 Peace. This organization connects people from different religions and teaches them how to be peacemakers and make communities out of societies that are separated. We asked multiple questions about how the kids work together and create peace between the religions, as well as more questions about the Muslim religion. The high school girl was more than welcome to answer our questions and told us how excited she was for Ramadan! Overall, this day was a major learning experience for me and the rest of the grade because never in our lives have we gone this in depth about the Muslim religion and their lifestyle. We will take this information with us to college and use it throughout our future.
  • Tuesday, March 22

    Max:
    Hey everyone, today we had another interesting, fun day on Neshama. 
    We started the day by leaving the Kibbutz for Shoreshim, an organization dedicated to dialogue between Israeli Jews and Palestinian. We first talked with Shaul, an Israeli who grew up in Seattle. He has always gone to synagogue and has always had a strong appreciation for Israel. Later in his life he made Aliya and build his home in Tequa, a settlement in Gush Etzion.
    He asked the class, “What is the next phase for Israel?” This million-dollar question had an impact on us and caused us to think deeply throughout this whole discussion. This led to a long discussion on the peace process between Israel and Palestine. We also met with Kalid Abu Awad, he talked with us about his life as a Palestinian and the loss of his brother during the conflict, which led him to understand the act of dialogue has to happen in order to bring peace. Although the Jewish and the Palestinian were on different sides, their stances against violence aligned.

    Following a pizur lunch, we visited Yeshivat Har Etzion. Yona, a student of this Yeshivah, toured us around and showed us how passionate he is about the different teachings he learned. To start the tour, he took us to the Beit Midrash which is home to 400-500 students. Our whole class was shocked by the size of the Beit Midrash. Later in the tour, we discussed the goals of this Yeshivah. The main goal is for each student to walk out as a son of Torah. This activity showed us the importance of studying Judaism.
  • Monday, March 21

    Emily:
    Today we had the unique opportunity to go to Hebron, the second most holy city for Jews, but also one of the most complicated places in Israel. The city is divided into two parts, the Arab section and the Jewish section. Our first stop of the day was a challenging one for the group. We visited the place of Baruch Goldstein’s grave. After hearing the story of his life and seeing his grave, we had a discussion about the morality behind having his grave in a place that seemed to be a memorial, despite the fact that he was a murderer. Next, we made our way into Hebron and visited Ma’arat Hamachpelah, the burial place of our biblical ancestors. Before entering we relearned the story of Abraham buying this piece of land with Rob and Rabbi Nevins. We then entered Ma’arat Hamachpelah and saw the tombs created above the underground burial tunnels. As we walked in we happily saw a bar mitzvah going on and Hebrew songs being sung.
     
    Following a quick lunch outside, the group met with Rabbi Simcha Hochbaum, a resident of Hebron, who toured us around the Jewish part of Hebron. We saw a shul and learned about the history of the place while walking through the place our ancestors lived. After the educational tour with Simcha, Neshama and I met with Issa, a Palestinian resident in Hebron who lived in the section owned by the Jews. From Issa, we heard about his side of the story of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict and the injustices he has faced during the time of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. The group had a Q&A with him and tried to hear his ideas on solutions he thinks are best and what we as Americans can do to help. The group and I found it very interesting and important to hear his perspective and learn about how Palestinians of Hebron see things. As the day ended everyone definitely felt a bit on edge after the last speaker but also satisfied with the idea that we were hearing from both sides of a very complicated conflict. 
     
    The day ended with zman mishpacha where we were given time to decompress from the long day and process the information we heard. After having time to think about the past two days, I am excited to continue the Week of Many Faces and learn even more about all the different groups who live in this small but very special land”.
  • Sunday, March 20

    Yoni:

    “Today, Sunday, was a very challenging, but meaningful day on Neshama. This day marked the first of three days that we would be spending in Gush Etzion, south from Jerusalem. Before we embarked on our journey, we sat down with Rob and learned about some of the history. Rob went over the history of Israel dating back to the early 1900s including the evolution of the West Bank, the Occupied Territories and the basic viewpoints about the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. Rob made sure to let us know that we would be hearing from many different viewpoints this week, and we would need to remain open to hearing diverse views on challenging topics. After our brief discussion, we headed south of Jerusalem to a small Arab village within Area C. This village was very unique because the majority of Area C,  are Jewish settlements. The minute we stepped foot on the village, we could tell the major differences between it and the Jewish settlements surrounding it. Many of the Jewish settlements had been built up and resembled modern cities that we had been seeing within Israel. This village, on the other hand, was very run down and was lacking the modernization that we had been used to. After looking around Khaled Zakariya, we met with the village leader, Abu Ibrahim. Abu discussed with us his history in the village and his viewpoints on the issues within his area. Many of us asked insightful questions such as: “How do you feel as an Arab living in a majority Jewish area?” and “If Israel allowed you full citizenship, but forced you to leave your home, would you take it?” Abu explained to us that his village does not receive the same rights as the Jewish settlements surrounding him, and he only wishes to be treated as everyone else. He does not want to abandon his home, but he stressed how all he wants is to live in a peaceful world where his village has all the resources they need. Leaving the village left us with more questions than we came with. Many of us wondered if there were other Arab villages that also wanted the same thing, or if many would refuse Israeli control. Many of us talked about our reactions and expressed how we would feel if we were in the same scenario as Abu. After leaving Khaled Zakariya, we headed to do lunch within a mall in the Gush region. This experience was very interesting because we were not expecting to be in a place that is so heavily populated by Jews. All the restaurants we saw were kosher, and the majority population was Jewish. My friends and I enjoyed a delicious Shawarma lunch, and then walked around the local supermarket. After our lunch break, we got on the bus to go to Oz v’Gaon to meet with Nadia Matar. Nadia is a Jewish settler living in Efrat, she represents the Sovereignty Movement. Nadia explained her story and shared how she always felt a connection to the holy land. She explained that she stands with the right-wing party in Israel and supports a one-state solution. This means that Israel would annex the territories of the west bank and give all Jewish people citizenship. The large Arab population would have an option for citizenship, but not receive it immediately. This meeting was extremely meaningful as it was a viewpoint that many of us have never been exposed to before. We discussed our views on it afterwards and headed to  Mincha outside. We all took time to reflect on what we had heard and tried to form our own viewpoints on this complicated issue. After davening mincha, we headed to Kibbutz Kfar Etzion where we would be staying over the next 3 days. After dropping off our bags, we walked to the museum and learned about the history of the kibbutz. We learned about the Kibbutz massacre and how it was eventually rebuilt. After all the learning and listening, we sat down with our Mishpachot and discussed our feelings from the day. This was an overall extremely educational day, and I am very excited to continue to learn more about this issue over the next week.
  • Friday, March 18 and Saturday, March 19

    Oren shared Neshama’s experience from Friday and Saturday:
     
    “The last two days were classic Neshama days filled with hiking, Shabbat rest, and more! We started Friday off with a hike in Park Adulam. The hike led us to the Bar Kokhba caves, where we crawled on our hands and knees through extremely tight caves and learned about the Bar Kokhba revolt and Bar Kokhba himself. We then sang Hatikvah and Happy Birthday to Rabbi Nevins in front of a gorgeous view. As lunch time rolled around, we started to prepare for our second Barbecue on Neshama. We split up into groups and worked hard on our individual tasks. Jon and Emily were the MVPs of the lunch as they ran the goo station and made the dough for our home made pitot! After lunch we went back to Agron and prepared for Shabbat. Hannah S. and Michal lead a beautiful Kabbalat Shabbat service as we welcomed in Shabbat. We then had a yummy Shabbat dinner made with amazing youth hostle food. Saturday morning, we split up into three groups and went to Shul. After services we came back to Agron, ate lunch, and had Shabbos Menuchah for a few hours. Well needed after such a tiring week. Before dinner we played a fun game Yael showed us called psychiatrist where Yoni got beautifully serenaded by Feldy, Wass, and Oren. For dinner we had pizzur at First Station, a beautiful mall made from an old train station. This Shabbat was needed after such an exhausting week. After charging our batteries, the Neshmaniks are excited for the upcoming week!”
  • Wednesday, March 16

    Inbar wrote about today’s experience: 
     
    “Hi everyone, today we had another great day on Neshama. We started the day by walking through the “real Mamilla”, a neighborhood right down the road of Agron. In the “real Mamilla”, we went to a slightly run-down Muslim cemetery which may have extended for hundreds of yards; in fact, there were even bones found under the Waldorf Astoria across the street. In the neighborhood, there is also a large body of water known as Mamilla Pool, which is a reservoir originally built by the Romans and used as a water source for the old city of Jerusalem. 
     
    We then moved on to our next activity, the Maaleh film school, which was one of the most interesting activities we have had so far in Israel. We met a man there named Emanuel Cohn, who explained to us that the school was the only religious-Jewish film school in the world. After his introduction, we watched a movie called “Barriers”, in which Uri, an Israeli soldier was manning a checkpoint with two other soldiers. Suddenly, Uri gets a red alert and sends the checkpoint into a lockdown in which no one can pass through. This made the situation intense as there were Palestinian workers who needed to get to their jobs on the other side of the checkpoint. The situation gets even more intense when an ambulance arrives carrying a young Palestinian girl with diabetes in need of immediate medical attention. Eventually, the story ends with one of the apparent “workers” killing a soldier. 
     
    We also watched another movie titled “Little Dictator”, in which a professor named Yossi who specializes in the field of Authoritarian leaders lives a boring life filled with people who don’t respect him. At the end of the film, Yossi channels his inner-dictator and earns the respect of the people around him. I, along with some other students watching the film, noticed that the actor who played Yossi was Emanuel who explained about Maale earlier. We then had an informative Q & A with Emanuel about his experiences of acting in the movie. 
     
    For lunch, we had a Pizzur, then gathered in our Mishpachot and bought all the necessary items we needed for Purim. We are so excited for Purim tomorrow!”
  • Tuesday, March 15

    Hadas wrote todays update:
     
    Today Neshama was woken up by rain and wind around 4:30 am. Initially everyone was cold, annoyed, and scared. After a few minutes everyone calmed down and was laughing about the situation. Neshama spent the next hour and a half trying to sleep, but mostly we spent it laughing and making the best if the situation. When the rain stopped, we crawled out of our tents and packed everything up. We built a fire and drank tea to warm up before beginning the walk. Because of the rain we could not do the hike we originally planned to do. Instead, we walked from our campsite to Sde Boker. There we visited David Ben Gurion’s grave. After that we continued to walk into the desert to a spot to make breakfast. After a nice brake with good food and fun conversations the group began walking to the park where we stared desert experience two days before. As we walked it started to rain. The group embraced the challenge of walking in the rain and started to sing songs with the word rain in them. At this point we were walking through this mud that was sticking to our boots. We entertained ourselves by finding the best ways to clean the thick heavy piles of mud while still walking. Some found rubbing it on rocks the most effective, but others enjoyed kicking their legs and flinging the mud of. Soon enough the rain stopped and we finished our walk in nicer weather. When we reached the park, we ate lunch and got on the bus to go back to Agron. This bus ride was definitely the quietest bus ride we have had as everyone was catching up on sleep. When we made it to Agron we moved into our rooms and took much needed showers. After that some of the group went out to get dinner and some of the group ordered food to Agron. We had a calm night, and most people went to sleep early. We can’t wait to tour new places tomorrow.”
  • Monday, March 14

    Lily: 
    This morning we woke up at 6:00, packed our bags, had a pre-breakfast snack, and then began hiking. First, we hiked for about 25 minutes and then we made our breakfast consisting of toast, jam, chocolate spread, fruit, and porridge. After that we cleaned up and continued our way, we stopped to read stories at a beautiful oasis. After a few more hours of hiking and many more viewpoints we settled down in a nice sunny spot to make lunch. We were given salami, bread, vegetables, and rice. Some of our groups decided to fry the salami and make delicious sandwiches while the vegetarian group cooked some vegetables with their rice. After lunch we stayed in the same area and davened mincha where we had time to reflect while staring at the sandy mountains. Then we were tasked with a “solo walk” where we had to use our new navigation skills. There were different madrichim stationed at several points so that we knew we were on the right track. If we felt lost, we just had to listen to Ariel’s two major rules: go back to where you came from and trust the trail. At the end of this solo walk everyone met at the peak; that’s where the real challenge began. From there on it was all steep downhill. I’m not a very adventurous or athletic person so this was very difficult for me. I kept saying things like “I don’t like this” and “I’m going to die”, but my friends cheered me on and assured me I could get through it. They were correct and I eventually made it to the camp site where everyone had already been for about 10 minutes. Once we got settled, we had dinner and then we had a night activity. We went on a walk, far away from any lights, and each went to our own spots. There, we were able to star gaze and reflect on the day. Once we got back from the activity we sat around a campfire while our favorite security guard/medic, Ayal, played guitar and sang.
  • Sunday, March 13

    Kaylee:
    Today we reunited as a group this morning after our free weekend. We then headed to the Desert to begin our 3 day experience. The first thing we did was cook lunch using our own supplies and each person’s unique cooking experience. Those who had been on Ramah seminar this past summer shared their expertise with the group. Afterwards we began hiking in the beautiful Desert mountains occasionally stopping to take in the views and the cool desert breeze. My favorite part was stopping at a naturally occurring pool of water that evaporates, and reforms based on the season. After four hours of hiking, we stopped at our camp site and were delighted to finally rest and refuel. For dinner we had schnitzel, potatoes, couscous, and warm soup followed by roasted marshmallows and song singing around the campfire. We are all excited for another fun day of hiking together!
  • Thursday, March 10

    Hannah S. wrote about todays adventures in Tel Aviv. The pictures in the link will make more sense after reading the update.
     
    “Today, Thursday March 10, we began our day by packing up from the Tel Aviv Youth Hostel we’ve been staying in since the beginning of the week. After squeezing our clothes into our luggage, we departed to the center of Tel Aviv for a scavenger hunt. The goal of the activity was to learn about the city through experience: learning the city’s history, finding key landmarks, and by speaking to the locals in Hebrew. After a harrowing yet invigorating two-hour competition, Noa’s Mishpacha reigned victorious by 200 points. 
    The group then continued on to the Olympic museum detailing Israel’s relationship with the winter and summer Olympic games. We tried out various technologies to test our physical powers, reaction speed, and concentration. We then we’re treated to an interactive movie that explores the nuances of Israel’s participation in the Olympics. The museum allowed us to learn about a part of Israeli culture we aren’t often taught in schools. 

    After a delicious pizza and salad picnic, we got our helmets on and proceeded to a ~10 mile bike ride through Tel Aviv. I loved rolling down hills and pushing myself to keep up with Rob’s speed, but the best part was most certainly arriving at the sea halfway through our ride. The salty spray and warm sun reminded me of beaches at home, and the ice cream was pretty great too. 

    The day ended on a bittersweet note with everyone parting ways for home hospitality visits or a free weekend with the group. As strange as it is to not be all together, it’s exciting to see family or participate in a smaller group dynamic. We can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings!”
  • Wednesday, March 9

    osh wrote about today’s experiences:  
    “Today we woke up, had breakfast, and packed lunch for the upcoming big day. After an hour-long bus ride, we arrived at the ancient Roman city Caesarea. We first visited the amphitheater, where different Roman plays discussing philosophical questions were performed. Today, the theater is used as a music venue during the summer. In order to test out the acoustics of the theater, we sang a couple songs. We then took a brief walk over to an ancient bathroom. where, business is done between two rocks that you sit on. We then sat down at structure called the hippodrome, where the Romans would have horse racing. In addition to this, we also learned that some famous rabbis were executed in the hippodrome. We then acted out the horse races by galloping around the hippodrome. 
    After the race, we took a break by the sea while looking at the remains of a palace in the sea. We then sat down for lunch on a field. After lunch, we visited a building which further explained the history of Caesarea. First, we watched a video about the life of King Herod. We then looked at different artifacts from that time period, like coins and anchors. After a quick bathroom break, we were then off to a Jewish detainment camp.

    At the Atlit detainment camp, we learned about how many Jews fleeing Europe to Israel were either turned away or placed into the detainment camp by the British. Although these detainment camps were not created to kill Jews, many aspects of them, like the showers, barbed wire, and separating men and women, reminded Jews entering it of concentration camps. We saw a housing area where beds were crowded and living conditions were bad. We then walked into a replica of one of the ships used to smuggle Jews into Israel. On it, we learned that living was very cramped and sickness was rampant. After a long bus ride back to the hotel, we had dinner, and met with Dena Feldman, a GOA Alumna, and Ilan’s sister, who shared with us her Neshama experience, The Nachshon program she is part of, Hebrew University, Freshman year and more. Although the long bus rides, it was still very eventful”.
  • Monday, March 7

    Ilan Feldman wrote todays update:  
    “This morning when we woke up in Agron we knew we weren’t going to be back in Jerusalem for a little over a week. We had to be packed for Tel Aviv, our home hospitality weekend, and our time in the desert. We rode the bus for a little over an hour all the way west to Yafo, where we truly began our day. We first sat down to learn from Rob about the history of Yafo, when a nice woman came up to try and take a picture of the graffiti behind us. her name was Sally, she told us she was from the other center of the universe, Brooklyn. After a lot of laughs, we started out with our food tour through Yafo with a stop at Dr. shakshuka. we tasted the great shakshuka with the side of bread and continued into a מחלוקת (debate) about what’s more important to the dish, the sauce, or the egg. after then being yelled at by another customer for being “too loud” we continued to our next stop, which was an Arab bakery that has been open since 1879. After those two filling stops, we continued to walk through old Yafo and along the water, where we learned about the history of Yafo and saw St. Peter’s church and learned about Peter and his connection to Yafo. we then walked more to burn off some calories before putting more back on. we then stopped for bourekas , Knafeh  and some delicious hummus, much better than the hummus in Poland. We then walked through the flea market and stopped at our final food stop, a juice bar, where if you guess ingredients correctly, you get a drink for free. we then had some free time to walk around and explore, before walking to our new hotel and checking in to our new rooms. we then had some down time before walking back into in Yafo for some pizur dinner. overall, it was a pretty eventful day full of new foods and new sights.”
  • Sunday, March 6

    Alexis
    This morning we woke up at 8am excited for our first hike of Neshama! Hikes are an important aspect of Neshama as we are building a relationship directly with the land. Being able to firsthand see the landscape and nature our homeland has to offer is truly a gift. We ate breakfast and then boarded the bus for our 30-minute bus ride to the hiking trail.
    When we arrived at the hiking trail it began to rain, however after a few minutes the showers passed and we began our hike. In total, our hike was about 3 hours long (about 5 miles!), with three breaks in between to refuel with water and snacks. As the hike went on the weather became increasingly beautiful, as it was sunny with a nice breeze. Perfect weather for a hike. During this 3 hour journey a lot of 20 questions were played, music was blasting, and new conversations took place. About halfway through the hike, there was a pool of cold water in which only our Madrich Yedidya was brave enough to enter! We all cheered him on. 
    Once our hike ended, there was no time to waste! We were tasked with making our own lunch! We quickly split into groups and got to work. One group made the salad, washing and cutting the vegetables. Another made the pita and cooked it over the fire. And the last group prepared and seasoned the hamburger meat, later they cooked it over a fire. The task of preparing our own lunches was not an easy one, as after a long hike many of us wanted to rest, but overall, it was a bonding and fun experience as we all worked together to make delicious food. After eating, we cleaned up our area and then roasted marshmallows over the fire as a yummy dessert! Then we headed back on the bus for some rest time at the hostel before dinner. 

    By the time we finished dinner David, Hannah, and Maya had arrived! We made signs for their doors and got them some snacks to welcome them to Israel! After spending some time catching up with them, we headed downstairs for an activity. Our activity was a game of headbands, but with famous Israeli figures as the cards. After we finished the round, we went around giving a summary of who our figure was to the group.

    Today was a long day, filled with new and fun experiences. We are excited to travel to Tel Aviv and Yaffo tomorrow!
  • Friday, March 4

    Elan:
    We woke up Friday morning and walked to the old city where we saw the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the room of the last supper, and David’s tomb. We then got on the bus and headed towards Shuk Machane Yehuda, which was very bustling on Friday afternoon.  Groups got different food from Malawach and Jachnun to Burgers and Brisket Sandwiches. Finally, it was time for Shabbos, and we had a beautiful Kabbalat Shabbat and Ma’ariv. We had a fun nighttime program and said Laila Tov. 
    The next morning, we headed out to our Synagogues of choice for the week. Most groups returned at 10:30, with the exception of the group which went to The Great Jerusalem Synagogue, who arrived just in time for lunch at 12:30. If you ask me, it was 100% worth it, the grandeur of the Synagogue, in not only their physical and congregational size, but the beautiful stained-glass windows and choir made for a very unique and meaningful experience. That being said, I’m not sure if I’d go again, because the experience was unique in a way that is not meant to be experienced often. As aforementioned we got back to Agron in time for a delicious lunch, and then we had a fun free time where we had the option to go to the park, followed by a game of Hide and Seek. We then had Havdalah and headed to Ben Yehuda for a Pizur Dinner.
  • Thursday, March 3

    Eve’s update:
     
    “Today, Thursday, March 3, we woke up at 7am. If you know me, you know I am NOT a morning person, so you could say the early wake-ups were quite a transition for me. At least today’s wake-up was better than the occasional 5:30am(!) wakeups in Poland.
    Today we were lucky enough to welcome our new madrich (counselor) Yedidya! He fit in with the group right away, and even though he is only with us for a short time, he immediately tried to get to know each one of us. 

    We spent the day without the bus, walking throughout the old city of Jerusalem. Even though it was extremely rainy and cold, we bundled up and remained close together for warmth. 

    We first walked to the Kotel and put our notes in the wall. As Rob said, a great part about spending three months in Israel is that this can be the first of many trips we take to the Western Wall in the next few months together. 

    Next, we went on the temple mount, where once the first and the second temples were standing.  We saw Al Aksa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, bringing our History of Israel class to life as we saw the structures in person. Although we were not permitted to go inside, we could appreciate the external beauty of the historical sites, we learned about the importance of Jerusalem to Islam and the historic connection between Muslims and temple mount.

    We then met with Sister Rita, a Roman Catholic nun. We heard her life story and how she ended up in Israel. It was valuable hearing her experiences and perspectives, different from our Jewish ones. It was a great part of stepping out of our comfort zones and seeing life outside of our Jewish “bubble.” 

    Around 12pm, we had pizur lunch (where we receive money and find food ourselves). Because it was so cold and rainy, most of us decided we wanted to end our pizur early to go inside, and Rob said it was the first time ever that Neshama was willing to end their pizur early!
    Our next stop was the Temple Institute ) https://templeinstitute.org/( where we talked with people who believe in the idea of rebuilding the temple, and we learned about the clothing and holy structures that used to be in the Beit Hamigdash.

    Yoni then led us in mincha on the roof of one of the buildings in the Jewish quarter. As we were praying, a light drizzle quickly escalated into a torrential downpour. Saying Aleinu as we sped walked to shelter, we finished tefillah safe and sound. 

    Our final destination was the Arab shuk. There, we were fully immersed in Israeli culture as we attempted to bargain with the stubborn shop owners.

    Today was eventful and educational as well as fun, and we cannot wait for what the rest of Neshama has in store!”
  • Wednesday, March 2

    Sam wrote todays update:
    “Neshama 30 had an incredibly eventful first day is Israel! After a 7:15 wake up, they took a short bus ride over to the Mount of Olives overlooking the old city! Besides the incredible view, Neshama learned about what will take place on the Mount when the Mashiach arrives from sources taken from the Christian Bible and the Tanakh. Their long day of beautiful walks began as they traveled from the Mount to Dominus Flevit, the Church of Gethsemane, and finally, Mary’s Tomb. Along the way they learned about Christian practices and beliefs regarding death, and the arrival of the messiah. I found the most interesting detail to be that Dominus Flevit church  was not built facing the East like all other church’s because it would be pointed away from a stunning view of the old city. So instead, a cross was placed in front of the large window that, when viewed from the proper angle, lined up perfectly with another church in the distance. Neshama than walked to the City of David. They watched a quick 3D movie giving a history of the city of David, enjoyed a shawarma and falafel lunch before an eventful tour. On the surface, they learned about the excavation of the city and read the story of David and his life as the second king of Israel who chose his capital in Jerusalem. We plunged beneath the surface into the water ducts of the city, taking a nice walk through the caves of flowing water. There was singing, chanting, and a valuable lesson for 2 students about the use of waterproof sneakers in knee deep water. After a quick return to the surface for a sandal to sneaker swap, Neshama returned to the caves to see the city of David’s sewage system which we found to be an incredibly fun yet surprisingly challenging trail to traverse. Once back on the surface, Neshama found themselves just outside the walls of Jerusalem where they received a quick lesson about the architecture and the history of excavating the area. After a final quick tunnel walk, Neshama was inside the old city where Josh led Mincha outside the southern walls of temple mount. After an educational and tiring day, we returned to the bus and went to do some much needed laundry. Overall, today set a great percent for the rest our time in Israel!”
  • Tuesday, March 1

    At least once a year we are asked why visit Poland before we go to Israel? It’s cold, the content is difficult to stomach and there’s the second suitcase annoyance, schlepping it at the airport etc. There are many good reasons to go at this time, the most important for us, is the focus this intense experience in brings to our students. It grounds them, gives perspective, meaning and an appreciation of what we have as a community and as individuals. It sets the tone for Neshama. That’s why one of the first things they do in Israel is setting time to think and share their goals for the next 12 weeks of Neshama. For some it might be social: getting to know other people better, for some it could be spiritual: committing to being positive and active during tfilot, it could be physical or intellectual. Neshama offers many opportunities for growth; Poland sets their mind on taking advantage of those opportunities. 
     
    Michal (who will enjoy 12 weeks of no one butchering her name!) wrote todays update: 

    “Neshama arrived in Israel early in the morning. After the hour drive to Agron, the students caught up on sleep, after a meaningful and challenging week in Poland. We then gathered outside to share our collective and individual goals for this trip. Students expressed their desires to learn more Hebrew along with Jewish history, and Israeli culture. Students expressed enthusiasm to try stepping out of their comfort zones and experience knew things. We realized through all these goals we would be forming a strong kehillah (community). 
    Following a meaningful Maariv, we headed to Ben Yehuda street for dinner. We were very excited to be walking around the streets of Israel again and enjoying delicious food. 

    We are looking forward to start exploring and learning about Israel tomorrow!”
  • Monday, February 28

    Ozzie wrote todays’ update:
     
    “We started off our day in Łódź with a nice and late wake-up at 8:30! Thank you Rob! After our breakfast, we left the hotel and had a short drive over to a Jewish cemetery in Łódź. There, we learned about the burial process that still occurs today in that building. Following our lesson, we took a tour of the cemetery and saw that the cemetery had been preserved pretty well compared to some others that we had visited like that in Tikochin. Most of the graves were still standing upright. Something interesting about that cemetery was that there were many tombstones outside of the opening gate because people were buried there at the time of the Spanish flu and they were worried about contaminating the soil inside the cemetery walls. An interesting fact about Łódź is that unlike Krakow, the population is on the decline and there are only about 100 Jews left in the town. After our visit, we headed to an Umschlagplatz, the train station which is actually still an active station, but it has been turned into a memorial as well, and it was built by the community in Łódź on the 60 year anniversary of the Shoah. We learned about Mordechai Rumkowski’s famous speech and his experiences as the head of the Judenraat in the Łódź ghetto. He was forced to make difficult decisions throughout the Shoah and some say he is responsible for many deaths of Jews. 
    To get a little break and have some fun time, we then headed over to a huge mall called the Manufaktura for lunch. We spent a couple hours there bonding with each other and taking a much-needed break. Afterwards, we went to the Reicher Synagogue for Minchah, and it was very cool because the synagogue had not been destroyed during the war since there were co-owners of the Shul between one Jew and one non-Jew. The Jewish owner was able to sell the building to the non-Jew right before the war, meaning that the building was in the hands of a non-Jew and therefore the Germans had no interest in destroying it. Feldy led us in a beautiful service, and it was an amazing feeling to know that we gave those walls the chance to hear our Tefillah. It has been an amazing and educational final day in Poland, and I cannot wait to arrive in Israel tonight… eh hem… tomorrow… at 3:30 AM. Anyways, the Falafel will make it worth it!”
  • Sunday, February 27

    Shir wrote about Neshama’s experience today:
     
    Visiting the Auschwitz Concentration Camp and its sister camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau, was not a simple task. I believe that this grade is one that truly internalizes meaningful experiences, and this day is one that we will not disregard or gloss over. Like many of our discussions and destinations over the past week, this visit was very serious and very difficult, however, our grade remained attentive and engaged throughout the visits. Our first stop was Auschwitz, probably the most well-known Concentration camp around the world for its reputation of cruelty and the dehumanization of its captives. Unlike all of our other tours that were guided by Rob, we were given a tour guide who brought us in and around the grounds and buildings of the camp. We toured for 2 hours learning about different aspects of Auschwitz, such as the types of prisoners, the existence of resistance, the different torture methods and punishments, the life of the prisoners, the overall Nazi Ideology, and more. Once our tour concluded, we stopped for a brief lunch break before heading to our next stop just a few minutes away at the Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp. This camp was incredibly large with the surrounding fence traveling so far that the end was barely visible. This tour, now guided by Rob, was very intense because until this point we have not seen a camp as massive as Auschwitz-Birkenau. We began by visiting one of the intact shelters that had served as the women’s latrine. This was particularly difficult because along with physically seeing the state of these toilets, which were just holes into a deep ditch, our sourcebooks included a testimony from a woman who explained what it was like having to share a small bathroom hut with about less than 100 “toilets” with 30,000-32,000 other women. We continued on all the way to the other side of the camp where gas chambers 2 and 3 used to be. Towards the end of the war, in an attempt to destroy the evidence, the Nazis bombed their gas chambers, leaving only the rubble left for us to see. After looking around for a little, our group stopped for a moment to listen to stories from our fellow classmates Abs, Jon and Yael, who told stories about their relatives in the Holocaust. We continued on with the tour, visiting different parts of the camp and learning about each one’s function. One building we visited was called “The Sauna,” a place where the new arrivals would be stripped of their clothing, be put in a freezing cold shower after having their heads shaven, and be given their new prison garbs along with the infamous Auschwitz-Birkenau number tattoo. In this building, Rob and the Madrichim conducted an exercise with us where we would each receive a pen and paper and we were told to write about one thing we either learned, saw, experienced or felt while in Poland. I strongly believe that each and every individual took this exercise to heart and shared a moment from the past week that impacted them in a meaningful way. Towards the end of our tour, we stopped again to perform our Tekes, a ceremony we have performed at each concentration or death camp where songs, poems or testimonies are read as a commemoration to people who have died in each camp. However, the unique piece about this Tekes was that each student had the opportunity to include the names of their relatives who passed away in the Shoah into the ceremony. After our memorial service we ended our tour by walking back to the entrance and boarding our bus, getting comfy for our 3 hour drive to our hotel in Łódź.”
     
  • Saturday, February 26

    Pacey wrote about Neshama’s Shabbat in Krakow:
    “Neshama is known as a journey that touches the soul and I feel that resonated the most with the group while celebrating shabbat in Krakow. Before the Holocaust, Krakow was a city full of vibrant, widespread Jewish culture. Before the war about a quarter of the population in Krakow was Jewish and that is reflected in the Jewish quarter. Our hotel is located in an area that was once the epicenter of Judaism in Krakow. When we arrived, we had some time to get ready for Shabbat and lit candles outside of the hotel. We then took a short walk through the Jewish quarter to the Krakow JCC where we had Kabbalat shabbat. We felt that this kabbalat shabbat was more meaningful and had more ruach (spirit) than one in America. It was almost like we were reviving the once lively Jewish community in Krakow with our prayers and songs. After Kabbalat shabbat we were able to meet with 3 employees of the JCC (they are Jewish, and live in Krakow). They described how a JCC came to be in such a small Jewish community and what it was like to be a Jew in Poland. This provided the group with some insight into being a modern Polish Jew and the growing Jewish community in Krakow. Afterwards we had a filling shabbat dinner provided by the JCC. At the end of the dinner, we were greeted by the director of the Krakow JCC and he told us his story of how he came to be the director of this JCC. He said that while the Krakow Jewish community might be small compared to those in America or Israel, it is a fast-growing community and is one that has been flourishing over the past decade. He said that as more and more Jews discover that their parents and grandparents are Jewish, more and more Jews join the community, and this self-discovery has led to immense growth in the Krakow Jewish community. After our meaningful and fulfilling time at the Krakow JCC we went back to the hotel for a good night’s rest and luckily a late wakeup. The quality sleep we were able to get that night prepared us for a day of prayer, Jewish discovery, and some touring that Shabbat would hold. For Saturday services we went to the Ra”ma synagogue, one of the 7 synagogues in the Jewish quarter. As the name implies this synagogue was named after Rabbi Moses Isserles. Many of those 7 synagogues are not active as there is not a large enough Jewish population in Krakow to make use of all those synagogues. We went to the smallest of the 7 synagogues, but still beautiful nonetheless. The synagogue had ornate paintings on the celling, inlayed with gold leaf. Despite the synagogue being typically used by Hasidic Orthodox Jews, we felt very welcome in the shul. Due to the small Jewish population of Krakow, there were only 5 people there, not enough for a minyan. Because of our group we were able to create a full minyan and so our group felt like we had a purpose in that synagogue. Many of the members of our group volunteered for aliyot and one went as far as leading shacharit. As discussed previously on the trip, we felt as though we were bringing a passion and vibrancy to the synagogue, that was last experienced before the Holocaust. This feeling of purpose and belonging created a meaningful experience of much of the group and would hopefully serve as a model for the shabbats to come. One caveat of the experience was that there was a mechitza separating the females of the group from the males. This created a disparate experience and I felt that after the service many of the women did not have the same overall reaction to the service as the men. After the service we walked around the Jewish quarters of Krakow and saw two more synagogues. The first synagogue was called the Temple synagogue. This was not a reform synagogue but showed how the tides were changing when it came to Judaism in Poland and was more reform that synagogues we had visited previously. It was interesting to see that even centuries ago, there was a shift towards more liberal and less conservative forms of Judaism. After that we went to another synagogue called the Old synagogue. This is the oldest synagogue building in Poland and now houses a museum of Judaica. This was fascinating to the group as the museum had Polish Judaica that showed what it was like to be a Polish Jew at the time. As it was getting a little late, we decided to walk to lunch and had a hearty meal of chicken, cholent, and kugel. We then came back to the hotel for a few hours of free time, just enough for a shabbat nap. After our free time we gathered for outside for a deep, meaningful Havdalah. Now it is after dinner, and I am sitting in my room overlooking the Krakow skyline. This city, despite its lack of a strong Jewish community, instils me with a sense of pride and belonging in my religion. When I daven shacharit or sing with my friends, I think of the days when Krakow was the epitome of kehillah (community) and how our class is the next generation of Jews, ready to make our mark on the world”
  • Friday, February 25

    Rob asked to share the following with you:
     
    Shabbat Shalom Golda Och Community!
    We are heading west to Krakow (further and further away from Ukraine) and excited to have our first Neshama Shabbat together.  It's been an amazing week with many highlights.  
    We've divided our time between learning about the rich and diverse Jewish community that was here in Poland before the war and the tragic and immense losses during the Shoah.  We've read witness testimonies while walking through Treblinka and Majdanek.  And we have learned the stories of the first Hasidic Rebbe in Poland- Elimelekh of Lejask- while standing in his ohel (grave).  We studied the daf yomi (the page of Talmud) from Masechet Hagiga- a daily system of learning established by Rabbi Meir Shapiro of Lublin. 
    Elan Wasserman brought me to a place in Poland I've never been before, as we visited the hometown of his great-grandparents.  We saw the house that they lived in, the synagogue (a cultural center today), and the cemetery where the names of his and Hannah's families are inscribed.

    This is just a fraction of the things we've done in our busy itinerary.
    Today I praised the students as I realized that with each one of our stops our discussions are getting deeper and more nuanced.  They are really learning so much through this intense experiential education in Poland.

    This grade has much potential.  They are respecting each other, their staff, Jewish tradition (our Tefilot have been really special), and their thirst for learning and growing is quite evident. 

    To all the families, I know you would be beaming with pride in seeing how these young men and women have been conducting themselves.  They've learned a lot in your homes and at Golda Och Academy, and they are clearly prepared for their next step forward.  I feel very fortunate to be able to part of this amazing experience.
    May we live in a world that is free of violence and persecution.  Let us strive to create a world filled with love, not war.

    Shabbat Shalom
    Rob
  • Thursday, February 24

    Eli wrote today’s update: 
     
    “Hi everyone, we had a very memorable day today in Poland. Thankfully, Rabbi Rob let us sleep later than usual, as he could tell we were beginning to get run down from the past few days. We first visited the Lublin Yeshiva. We learned about its creator, the great Rabbi Meir Shapiro. Rabbi Shapiro is the same person who created the Daf Yomi tradition (the daily study of one page of Talmud - it takes roughly 7.5 years to complete the entire Talmud). To honor Rabbi Shapiro, we studied today’s Daf Yomi. I found it meaningful to study a page of Talmud in the same place where so much Jewish learning happened in the past. Sadly, Lublin Yeshiva is no longer an active yeshiva because the entire Lublin community was wiped out in the Holocaust. However, I felt that we were able to bring it back to life by studying Talmud within its walls. Next, we went to the Majdanek death camp. Unlike previous places we have visited where Jews were killed, Majdanek was in a city (Lublin), right off of a major road. It is crazy to think that thousands of Poles likely drive by Majdanek on their daily commutes. Hopefully, it is a constant reminder to them to never let the Holocaust happen again. At Majdanek, we spent nearly three hours walking through the entire camp. I will never forget walking into the gas chambers. The walls were stained blue from the gas used to exterminate Jews, and I will never forget what I felt when I entered the room. At the end of the tour, we came across a huge mausoleum built by the Russians as a memorial to the Jews who died there. On top of the mausoleum’s dome, there is Russian writing which says, “Let our fate be a warning to you.” Underneath the dome is a massive heap of ashes that were found on the path to the crematorium (which the Russians called the “black path”). My classmates and I were very emotional as we said Kaddish overlooking the ashes of thousands of our brothers and sisters. After Majdanek, we ended the day on a lighter note by visiting the grave of Rebbe Elimelech of Lejansk. He lived in the 18th century and was one of the early founders of the Hasidic movement. Rebbe Elimelech is a legendary figure within the Hasidic community (thousands of Hasidim from around the world still make the pilgrimage to pray at his grave). We learned about how Rebbe Elimelech believed deeply in the value of connecting to G-d through singing and dancing, and we honored him by singing niggunim we learned over the past couple days. I feel that I speak for my entire class when I say that we have developed a much stronger connection to Judaism, both in a spiritual and communal sense, over the past few days. We look forward to spending Shabbat in Krakow and getting to visit more important sites in Poland throughout the remainder of our trip.”
  • Wednesday, February 23

    Chloe wrote today’s update:
    “Today was an eventful and interesting day. We started off in a breathtaking synagogue in Tikochyn, a small village in Eastern Poland that had one of the larger Jewish communities in the region, with 2500 Jews living among Christians. This synagogue had been restored with the original murals of prayers throughout the walls. We prayed shacharit and sang some songs together. We then walked the streets of Tikochyn, getting to the old cemetery that was used by the community for around 500 years before the Shoa. As we got to the cemetery, it was devastating to see the neglect and lack of upkeep. We did not know where all the tombstones were, because they were half buried under soil and grass. It’s hard to comprehend what was once and what is here now. After, we visited the Lopochova Forest, where most of the community of Tikochyn were taken to be killed. We gathered in a circle, reading testimonies of survivors, and remembering the victims. Then we went to Treblinka, a death camp where there were many stones which commemorated the communities that were destroyed. Most of the Jews who lived in the Warsaw ghetto (Where we were visiting yesterday) arrived to Treblinka and were murder there.

    Hannah Lancman shared an extremely meaningful story from her family, relating to Treblinka. We then visited Elan Wasserman’s great grandfather’s house and shul in Siemiatycze where they lived and davened just before WW2. Lastly, we visited the cemetery that Elan Wasserman’s family restored. We are excited to continue our journey in Poland as continue learning about our collective past”
  • Tuesday, February 22

    David wrote todays update:
    Today (though arguably the last two days) has been a long journey and introduction to Poland. To start from when we left our parents side, we had an introduction to a Jewish connection to the land of Israel, and to the holocaust. The information was not new, but because we were about to leave, it took on a different light.  We left on the bus, got Covid tests (all of which came back negative, so no need to worry), and headed to the airport. While we all were initially dreading the long drive + wait at the airport (we got our results back by ~5 and our flight was delayed to 11:10 takeoff), it was by far the most fun in the day. We all just hung out with each other and bonded. There was also a reported spider-man sighting. Eventually we all made it onto the plane, and then (7 hours later) off it. We met our madrichim. While many of our grade have barely interacted with them, we are excited to get to know them. We then really began the Poland trip, an important part of our holocaust education. We first went to Warsaw's Jewish cemetery. What resonated with all of us were some of Rob's words: "We normally think of cemeteries as a bad place, but in truth they are a celebration of life." Traveling around the 150,000 gravestones we began noticing all the intricacies and also learned about certain jews, like Yud Lamed Peretz. We then went to Umschlaggplatz and the Mila 18 memorial, before going to the last synagogue in Warsaw from before WWII that remains standing, where we met the Chief Rabbi of Poland. Throughout this part of the day, we focused on the Warsaw Ghetto, and its uprising. It was interesting noting when we were in the ghetto and when we were not, as well as different pieces of unsettling facts (The ghetto was 5 times as dense as Manhattan). It was a really interesting and informative first day. It will form a good backdrop for the rest of the trip. We are all tired and excited for tomorrow.”

Photo Albums

Israel - May 13

Neshama 30 - May 13

Israel - May 11-12

Neshama 30 - May 11-12

Israel - May 8-10

Neshama 30 - May 8-10

Israel - May 4-5

Neshama 30 - May 4-5

Israel - May 1-3

Neshama 30 - May 1-3

Israel - April 28-29

Neshama 30 - April 28-29

Israel - April 27

Neshama 30 - April 27

Israel - April 24-26

Neshama 30 - April 24-26

Israel - April 13-14

Neshama 30 - April 13-14

Israel - April 12

Neshama 30 - April 12

Israel - April 9, 10, 11

Neshama 30 - April 9, 10, 11

Israel - April 6-7

Neshama 30 - April 6-7

Israel - April 5

Neshama 30 - April 5

Israel - April 3-4

Neshama 30 - April 3-4

Israel - March 31

Neshama 30 - March 31

Israel - March 30

Neshama 30 - March 30

Israel - March 28-29

Neshama 30 - March 28-29

Sunday, March 27

Neshama 30 - March 27

Israel - March 25

Neshama 30 - March 25

Israel - March 24

Neshama 30 - March 24

Israel - March 22-23

Neshama 30 - March 22-23

Israel - March 21

Israel - March 21

Israel - March 20

Israel - March 20

Israel - March 18-19

Neshama 30 - March 18-19

Israel - March 18

Neshama 30 - March 18

Israel - March 17

Neshama 30 - Maerch 17

Israel - March 15

Neshama 30 - March 15

Israel - March 13-14

Neshama 30 - March 13-14

Israel - March 10

Neshama 30 - March 10

Israel - March 9

Neshama 30 - March 9

Israel - March 8

Neshama 30 - March 8

Israel - March 7

Neshama 30 - March 7

Israel - March 5-6

Neshama 30 - March 5-6

Israel - March 4

Neshama 30 - March 4

Israel - March 3

Neshama 30 - Febraury 3

Israel- March 2

Neshama 30 - March 2

Israel - March 1

Neshama 30 - March 1

Poland - February 28

Neshama 30 - February 28

Poland - February 27

Neshama 30 - February 27

Poland - February 25

Neshama 30 - February 25

Poland - February 24

Neshama 30 - February 24

Poland, February 23

Neshama 30 - February 23

Poland, February 22

Neshama 30 - February 22